Title: The Heroic Legend of Arslan
Author: Yoshiki Tanaka (original story), Hiromu Arakawa
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Volume: Volume 1, $10.99
Vintage: 2013 by Kodansha Ltd., August 2014 by Kodansha Comics
The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a series of novels by Yoshiki Tanaka, begun in 1986 and now including thirteen volumes. It’s based on a 19th century oral story, Amir Arsalan-e Namdar, told by Mohammad Ali Naqib al-Mamalek to the Shah of Persia. It was made into a manga and also animated in the 90s, and is now being recreated by Fullmetal Alchemist‘s Hiromu Arakawa. Arslan is the crown prince of Pars, and his father is the undefeated King Andragoras. Andragoras rules the prosperous capital Ecbatana, a city that guards the trade roads between the surrounding countries. Young Arslan isn’t considered a very strong successor. He lacks his father’s ruthlessness and stubborn bravery, but has a strong heart and is very perceptive. No one is worried, however, since Andragoras’s rule is sure to be a long and prosperous one. All that changes just three years later, when the country of Lusitania destroys the neighboring Maryam (an ally of Pars), and marches into Pars seemingly unobstructed. At just fourteen, Arslan accompanies is father’s army into his first battle to fend off the approaching Lusitanians. While the Lusitanian forces match Pars’s in numbers, they are at a disadvantage on the unfamiliar geography of Parsian land, and the undefeated Parsian’s expect an easy victory. As the cavalry charge begins, things immediately turn awful for the Parsians, whose army falls into a pit hidden by a thick fog, filled with oil that is soon set aflame by Lusitanian archers. Charge in full swing, the soldiers continue pressing forward, and chaos erupts across the battle field. Arslan is separated from the main army, and the king’s Head Commander, Vahriz, sends his nephew to look for the crown prince. Arslan is found, by a soldier in his father’s army he considers a friend, but who is accompanied by Lusitanian soldiers and intends to kill the young man. Fortunately Daryun isn’t far behind, and he cuts through the Lusitanians like a man possessed and rescues his prince. Realizing he’s been betrayed, King Andragoras retreats, and his army is left behind. To avoid the battle that surely must be pressing toward the capital, Daryun takes Arslan to the home of an old friend who lives in the nearby mountains.
For some reason, this one just isn’t clicking with me. I enjoyed it, but I’m not very interested in continuing beyond this volume, which is odd since this is typically a genre I favor. I’ve been trying to pin down the why, but I can’t come up with anything I particularly disliked. The action is certainly over the top, which clashes with the dark fantasy elements, but it also illustrates how brutal a time the story is set in. The humor injected here and there is a bit awkward, but it’s not necessarily badly done. It’s very clearly an Arakawa book, as the characters are designed similarly to her Fullmetal Alchemist cast. In fact, Arslan looks (and reads) like another Edward Elric (at least so far). He’s innocent, but that innocence is being destroyed quickly and brutally. He has a strong heart that breaks with sorrow at betrayal, and allows him to save the life of someone who should be his enemy. It’s a wonder he seems to be such a good, noble person, given how distant both his parents are. It speaks well of the attendants around him who likely raised him in lieu of his parents. They’re an interesting set of characters, though aside from Daryun, Vahriz, and Kharlan, they make very brief appearances, and even the other three have just enough page time to present basic personalities. In the case of Daryun and Kharlan, there will certainly be a lot more information in future volumes, especially given the hints of Kharlan’s motives. Other tidbits are dropped, too, like the fact that Arslan may not be his father’s son. There’s also the religious aspect, which is all too familiar in today’s world, in which different countries or cultures vow death and destruction on those who do not follow their precise beliefs. There’s a lot the sheltered Arslan doesn’t understand about the world around him, but he’s about to find out much more than he might like, and Arakawa is bringing her readers along for the ride.